A question on Tripadvisor about a rural hotel in Realejos Baja got me thinking about the perception of the towns that hug the hills on Tenerife.
One reviewer had advised that it was a ghost town in winter, evidence that they hadn’t explored the area maybe as extensively as they might have done.
Geography and history have fashioned quite a difference in the characters of the hill towns in the south and north sides on Tenerife.
On both sides the hills were where the major centre of populations lay, away from the dangers of invasion and pirate raids at the coast.
But the fertile terrain of the north meant that these were the most sought after lands, handed out to the richest and most noble conquistadors after the Guanche were subdued. Subsequently, more people settled in the northern towns and in the Güímar Valley than in the more arid, and therefore more difficult to farm, lands to the south.
The combination of geography and history resulted in the hill towns on one side of the island being relatively tranquil, sleepy places – generally speaking – and the ones on the other being quite bustling centres of population. Although tourism has brought the crowds to Tenerife’s southern coast, the hill towns haven’t really changed.
There are pros and cons attached to both and on either side of the island the hill towns give a taste of authentic Tenerife as well as providing a snapshot into the past.
They’re honest, working towns that on the face of it might not look attractive, they’re certainly not quaint. In the smaller southern hill towns like San Miguel de Abona and Granadilla de Abona it’s easier to spot the town’s historic sections and attractions than it is in La Matanza or La Victoria, whose names owe their existence to bloody battles between conquistadors and Guanches. The overall result might have been a draw; a victory to both sides, but the thrashing the Guanches took at La Victoria was a history changer.
Both are quite odd places, towns that are strung out along the hillside without an obvious centre. It’s easy to drive through and miss their secrets; wonderful restaurants, historic trees, funky sculptures, markets, hidden fountains and so on.
Santa Ursula has a clear and perpetually busy centre with virtually nil tourists. Anyone who considers Tenerife’s hill towns to be ghost towns has never tried to park in Santa Ursula. Again it’s not a pretty town but it has an honest charm, attractive historic corners, good restaurants and you can pick up wine from lots of little cottages.
Everyone knows La Orotava, the best looking hill town on Tenerife, and many have visited it’s historic corners. Along with Icod de los Vinos and Adeje, La Orotava is one of the hill towns that welcomes a lot of tourists to its streets. But it bustles most of the time with or without tourists.
And that brings us to Los Realejos, the ghost town. Except, of course it isn’t. Los Realejos is the place where the conquest of Tenerife came to an end. Fernandez de Lugo, head honcho in charge of the conquest, had a house here. One Victorian writer declared it the prettiest village in the Canary Islands.
This is the place that claims to hold more fiestas in a year than anywhere else in Spain. There are two centres, Realejos Bajo (the low town) and Realejos Alto (you’ve guessed it, the high town), and both are quite buzzing with activity much of the time… winter and summer.
It’s just that, like most of the northern hill towns, it isn’t tourists that are doing the buzzing.
So if visitors are looking for familiarity, they’re not the place to go. On the other hand, if they’re looking for a truly authentic experience on Tenerife, they are… no matter which side of the island we’re talking about.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+